For three months out of the year 105 Idahoans meet at the statehouse in Boise to make decisions as lawmakers for the state of Idaho.

Bill to allow impact fee exemption for public charter schools goes to House

A bill that would allow public charter schools to receive an exemption from paying impact fees on new construction is making its way to the Idaho House of Representatives after it passed a hearing Thursday, Feb. 14.

Rep. John Vander Woude, who represents Kuna and nearby, introduced HB 91 at a House Local Government Committee meeting. His daughter, Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, who also represents Kuna, also explained features of the bill during the hearing.

Currently, Idaho code allows most public schools to get an exemption from impact fees because they are considered taxing districts. But many public charter schools can’t get that same exemption. HB 91 aims to change that.

Most representatives supported the bill, but a few were concerned about its inclusion of an emergency clause, which would allow the law to be enacted before July 1 as most laws are. Den Hartog said the emergency clause was put in place to help Compass Public Charter School in Meridian, which is developing a new campus but doesn’t have enough money to finish its gym because of the money it paid in impact fees.

Reps. Steve Berch and Brooke Green, both Democrats from Boise, voted against sending the bill to the House because of its inclusion of the emergency clause. Berch said adding an emergency clause for the purpose of benefiting a specific entity may violate the Idaho Constitution.

Idaho lawmakers hear from inmates, businesses in support of inmate labor bill

A bill that would allow Idaho’s minimum security inmates to work for additional private businesses in the agricultural industry is now headed to the Idaho Senate for a vote, after clearing a Senate committee Wednesday with unanimous support.

Right now, minimum security inmates, through the Idaho Correctional Industries program, can only work on the production, harvesting and processing of perishable foods. Private companies producing perishable foods have faced a dire labor shortage, according to testimony, and Idaho agriculture faces a major labor shortage.

Steve Cherry, of Kuna’s CS Beef, told the committee the plant he works at currently employs 40 inmates. Many of them stay on as employees after they serve their sentence.

The company has benefited from the program, he said, but he added “this program is much bigger than whatever CS Beef gets from it.”

Inmates opt into the program. During the day, they can leave the facility where they’re serving time and work in the community, albeit under the supervision of correctional officers.

SB 1045 will now head to full Senate. If it passes there, it still would face another hearing in the House, and need passage in the full House and the governor’s signature to become law.

Bill would allow police to make arrest without warrant if a suspect threatens a school

When Moscow police officers responded to reports of threats Michael Mastro Jr., 26, made on YouTube to “shoot up” local schools in March, they wrote him a citation ordering him to appear in court and then they let him go.

That’s because they couldn’t do anything else.

Under current Idaho law, police cannot make a warrantless arrest of a person who makes a threat of violence against a school. In Idaho, there are a list of crimes a police officer can make a warrantless arrest for, even if the officer didn’t witness the crime; they simply need enough evidence to do so. The bill would add “threatening violence upon school grounds (through use of) firearms and other deadly weapons” to that list. 

Thus, even if the threat occurred off school grounds police couldn’t determine if the person had weapons or plans to carry out those threats, they could still make a warrantless arrest “for evaluation,” according to the bill’s statement of purpose.

Little signs HB 1, water rights settlement bill, into law

Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed HB 1, the Treasure Valley water rights settlement bill, into law, and praised the collaborative process that brought all sides together on it.

The settlement agreement accounts for stored water in the Boise River system following releases for flood control, and, if the water is released, how those with water rights will have their rights maintained.

Under the agreement, the Idaho Department of Water Resources still will track everything coming down the river and count it against a water right. But Boise River system water users, who were concerned that such releases could mean they'd go without their own water allocations later in the year when they need them, will now have rights to the water that refills the reservoirs following flood-control releases.

One big water issue that's not far off in the future is the prospect of possibly raising Anderson Ranch Dam east of Boise by 6 feet, to hold more water to serve the needs of the fast-growing Treasure Valley. 

Controversial redistricting bill pulled

Amid a major spat between House Republicans and Democrats that threatened to slow the House’s business to a crawl for the rest of this year’s legislative session, a controversial redistricting bill was pulled from the House floor by unanimous consent.

HJR 2 proposed amending Idaho’s Constitution to add a seventh member to the Redistricting Commission. The bill would let the state’s top elected officials — all Republicans — pick that final tie-breaking commission member.

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Idaho’s bipartisan citizen redistricting commission was created by a voter-approved constitutional amendment in 1994; it is evenly split between the two parties. It’s responsible for redrawing legislative and congressional district lines to reflect population changes in the Census every 10 years.

Party-line vote in House panel backs fund shift from ISP to roads

A bill headed to the Idaho House of Representatives would phase out $18 million in Idaho State Police funding and instead put that money toward fixing roads.

Currently, a 5 percent share of the state’s dedicated Highway Distribution Account, which comes largely from gas taxes and vehicle registration fees, goes to ISP each year; those funds must be used to patrol the state’s highways. The bill would drop that by a single percentage point a year, starting at 5 percent in 2021, then 4 percent in 2022, until it hit zero in fiscal year 2026.

The House Transportation Committee, on a party-line vote, sent the bill to the full House. 

Bill to help first responders with PTSD passes Idaho Senate

The Idaho Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill Tuesday, Feb. 12 to extend workers’ compensation coverage to first responders who suffer from serious work-related psychological injuries.

Police, firefighters, paramedics and other first responders are only eligible for workers’ compensation for psychological treatment now if the injury is accompanied by a physical injury. 

The bill will expire on July 1, 2023, meaning lawmakers can review it in a few years and see how it’s working. The bill now heads to the House.

Ban on cellphone use while driving goes to Senate

A bill to ban using a handheld cellphone while driving statewide is heading to the full Senate.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted 6-2 on Tuesday, Feb.12 to advance the bill. It would set the fines for a violation at $50 for a first offense, $100 for a second and $200 for a third and subsequent offense, plus possible license suspension of up to 90 days for three or more offenses within three years. It makes handheld cellphone use a primary violation, which means police can stop drivers just for that.

Idaho banned texting while driving in 2012, but that ban only covers texting specifically and is little enforced. 

The bill would let people use a hands-free device and would allow for use of headphones as long as the earpiece is only in one ear. It also contains a few exceptions, such as in emergencies and for first responders carrying out their duties. 

Bill to shorten eviction process, add more tenant protections introduced in Idaho House

The Idaho House of Representatives will take up a bill this session that would expedite the eviction process, add new protections for renters in properties where landlords have not completed repairs, and allow victims of domestic violence to more easily break a lease.

Currently, landlords in Idaho have to file two separate suits in court to evict a tenant, one to return the property to the landlord and another to file for monetary damages. This legislation would combine the eviction process into a single court filing and would hasten all evictions regardless of circumstances down to a month or less.

Alongside the changes to the eviction process, the bill would also allow tenants an alternative to suing their landlord for incomplete property repairs. Renters would be able to serve their landlord with a three-day notice requesting repairs and if they are not completed, the renter can either repair it themselves, or get out of the lease penalty-free and receive a refund of any prepaid rent.

Little slows down minimum teacher salary boost, as school budget-setting approaches

With all the concerns over state tax revenues coming in behind forecasts this year due to income tax withholding issues, Gov. Brad Little has modified one of his signature proposals: Rather than trying to raise Idaho’s starting teacher pay to $40,000 next year, he’s now proposing to phase that in over two years.

The result, according to the governor’s bill introduced in the Legislature last week, is that the state’s minimum teacher salary would rise to $38,500 next year, then $40,000 the year after. The current minimum is $35,800, though that would rise next year under the teacher career ladder to $37,000.

The change means Little would add just $3.8 million to next year’s budget for the extra salary boost, if his bill passes, rather than $11.2 million. In the second year, the fiscal impact would be an additional $7.7 million.

New law to give Idaho nation's broadest opioid-reversal drug access

Idaho is on track to have the broadest naloxone-access law in the nation, Gov. Brad Little declared Thursday, as he signed HB 12 into law. The bill makes the opioid-overdose-reversing drug available from any licensed or registered health care professional, to be given to anyone with “a valid reason” to possess it.

That could mean first responders, family members, drug users themselves, or anyone who is likely to be able to help someone suffering from an opioid overdose by administering the drug.

The bill takes effect July 1; it passed both the House and Senate unanimously.


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